Historically closed-off FLDS Church community accepting outside help after deadly flash floods

Posted at 5:02 PM, Sep 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-17 09:26:53-04

HILDALE, Utah -- As the community copes with the loss of at least 12 victims, the mayor of Hildale, a traditionally cloistered community, has been forced to accept outside help from the county and the state.

Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona are secluded towns out by the Utah-Arizona border, and they are often viewed as being closed-off due to their religious affiliation with the Fundamentalist LDS Church--which is known for its practice of polygamy and the incarceration of its leader, Warren Jeffs.

So, in the face of tragic flooding, it wasn’t clear how the community would receive outside help. Wednesday, Mayor Philip Barlow said the rescue efforts would have been impossible without that extra assistance.

“The county sheriff has just been very helpful to me personally, to know what I ought to be doing,” Barlow said.

In the 72 hours since floods swept through the town, taking the lives of at least 12 people, county sheriffs, outside police departments, and now the National Guard have rolled into town—all doing what they can to find a remaining victim while mingling with the locals and even using their help along the way. Crews are searching for 6-year-old Tyson Lucas Black, the child who is still missing.

“I sure have had good feeling, and we've had good cooperation with all the agencies,” Barlow said.

City officials may be glad to see the outside help, but driving through the streets of Hildale, stares and glances from locals make many wonder whether the towns’ residents share that welcoming feeling.

Barlow said he hopes people's perceptions of outsiders change, as he said the outside help has been instrumental.

“I would sure hope so, because it sure has been wonderful,” Barlow said of that assistance.

It’s one thing for the mayor to say it, but it's another thing to hear it from the people living here. Virginia Black said she grew up in the area and among the religious community, and she said she was taught to avoid visitors.

"Kind of taught to step away from it all, not be inviting," Black said.

Randy Shakespeare lives in a separate community but is helping to build a high school in the area. He said in recent years things have begun to change, and he said the stereotype that the community is closed-off needs to go.

"I think a lot has changed around here," Shakespeare said.

Black said she hopes the help from outside sources after this tragedy will help others who live in the area become more welcoming.

"I hope it's helping to change a lot of them," she said.